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Call for more Channel 4 programmes to be made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

10 Apr 2024 8 minute read
The Channel 4 logo. Photo Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

Martin Shipton

Creative Wales, the Welsh Government’s economic development agency for the media industries, has joined with its counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland in calling for more Channel 4 productions to be made outside London.

Northern Ireland Screen, Screen Scotland and Creative Wales say they are concerned that Ofcom is recommending what they interpret as a new 65% London quota and renewal of a 91% Channel 4 production quota for England across the next decade.

Ofcom says their interpretation is false and misleading. An Ofcom spokesperson said: “The regional production quotas are an enforceable policy intervention to guarantee a minimum level of spend and hours are delivered outside of London and, in Channel 4’s case also outside of England.

There are no such quotas to guarantee levels of production in England or in London. If we had proposed a 65% London quota or a 91% England quota Channel 4 would be in breach and liable for enforcement action.”

The trio of nations is pushing Ofcom to increase Channel 4’s ‘Outside of London’ commissioning spend to 50%, its out of England quota to 16%+, and to introduce individual quotas for each UK nation in line with those accepted by the BBC since 2009.

Licence obligations

They believe that Channel 4 should fulfil its remit and licence obligations as a public service broadcaster fairly across the entire UK, delivering content promoting new and diverse voices and perspectives and playing its part as a broadcaster owned by the UK public in supporting the creative economy outside London.

They say it is essential that Channel 4 operates in a manner that ensures no individual nation experiences undue advantages or disadvantages. All three screen agencies agreed that a 91% quota in favour of England is indefensible in the UK in 2024.

Overall, they say the proposals outlined by Ofcom contradict Channel 4’s own ALL 4 the UK strategy which states “to truly fulfil our remit to stand up for diversity, take creative risks and inspire change, we knew we’d need to change too. We’d need to look and feel different, behave differently and most importantly, get outside the M25. It’s about representing a diversity of thought and opinions from across the UK, and across all of our content.”

Challenging

The Ofcom consultation reports that Channel 4 has found it challenging to commission outside of the M25 and to meet the current 9% “Out of England” quota yet, according to the three nations’ agencies, the historic data presented by Ofcom and Channel 4 does not strongly support that assertion.

All three screen agency responses pointed towards the economic success of the BBC’s 16%+ quota across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as a more appropriate benchmark upon which to set Channel 4 targets – one that reflects the population share of all four home nations. They say the BBC has not experienced difficulty in meeting its higher quota, and remains confident that its broad range of suppliers across the UK will continue to deliver for the Corporation.

Channel 4 and Ofcom both assert that there are alternative initiatives to support the screen industries in the nations than quotas. While the three screen agencies recognise the benefits that adhoc regional talent and skills schemes have, they all claim that the key to fostering and safeguarding the regional sector lies in securing commissions – producers respond to broadcaster demand by investing in growth, but when publicly owned UK broadcasters target 91% of their spend on London and England the commercial incentive for producers in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland to invest is severely undermined.

Proposals

All three agencies also disagree with Ofcom’s proposal to maintain the “out of London” production quota for Channel 4 at 35%, pointing to the fact that Channel 4 has had no difficulty exceeding its current 50% target for production outside London for three years now.

The Ofcom consultation quotes Channel 4 as saying that “despite growth in recent years, the UK production sector continues to be significantly smaller outside London.

“That means there are fewer production companies, often smaller in scale, and therefore with less capacity to develop creative ideas and produce them, in comparison with London”.

However, Channel 4 has not made a sustained, strategic effort to grow its supplier network outside of England over the last 20 years. All three agencies highlighted that, in contrast to Channel 4, the BBC has made significant strategic efforts to expand its supplier base outside of London since 2019, working with a range of independent producers across scripted and factual genres.

Gerwyn Evans, Deputy Director at Creative Wales said: “Here in Wales we are proud of our thriving screen sector and are working hard to develop and grow it further. These Ofcom proposals around quotas for Channel 4 filming in London and England go against much of what we are working to achieve and seem to be a huge backward step that would only serve to refocus a significant part of the UK’s TV production back to London and the South East of England.

“Creative Wales is proud that Channel 4 shows such as the award winning The Great House Giveaway have been made in Wales, and that recurrent series have enabled production company, Chwarel to grow sustainably, creating local jobs and economic benefits.

“Light in the Hall is another great example of Channel 4 making high end, quality TV here in Wales and we are keen to continue and build on our positive working relationship. We would urge everyone involved in these proposals to reconsider their position and take action to protect our screen industry, and the many jobs and opportunities it brings to Wales.”

Reflect audiences

Dyfrig Davies, Chair of TAC, which represents independent TV production companies based in Wales, said: “We agree with Creative Wales and others that Ofcom’s proposed new Channel 4 licence does not take account of the broadcaster’s new UK-wide commissioning approach.

“We need new Channel 4 spending commitments for each nation, to better reflect audiences and also to take advantage of the lively production sector in nations such as Wales. The current 35% out-of-London quota level is also not fit for purpose and should be increased. Channel 4 has met its own 50% voluntary out of London production target for the last four years and has hard-wired out-of-London commissioning into its structure. That 50% commitment should now be formalised.”

A spokesman for Channel 4 said: “Channel 4 is fully committed to driving growth and investment in the Nations and Regions and has made demonstrable progress over recent years. Whilst we of course look to ensure that our commissioning spend benefits all three devolved nations, no commercial broadcaster, including Channel 4, has nominal or voluntary quotas for the individual nations.

“Our 4 All The UK strategy has introduced regional hubs, creating more than 500 roles out of London with a commitment to reach 600 by 2025; we have voluntarily increased our nations and regions commissioning quota from 35% to 50%; we have worked with screen agencies across the UK to introduce bespoke commissioning development initiatives; we have invested millions in the Nations and Regions through our 4Skills programme delivering 57,000 training, learning and development opportunities in 2023.

“These interventions have seen Channel 4’s out of London commissioning spend steadily increase over the licence period to a record £228m in 2022.”

Nominal nations quotas

A Channel 4 source said: “Neither Channel 5 nor ITV have nominal nations quotas.

“There is no 65% ‘London quota’. Nor is there an ‘England quota’ of 91%. We have a nations and regions Ofcom quota of 35% which we have chosen to over deliver on with a voluntary quota of 50% and have done so regularly since 2021. There is no England quota.

“Between 2014 and 2022, our commissioning spend in the nations and regions has been regularly increasing on a very positive/steady trajectory. During that time spend in Wales increased from £3.8m to £18.8m. It is anticipated that 2023 commissions will be impacted by the global economic downturn/commissioning slowdown.

“Our quotas are out of London and out of England, but they are not minimum quotas for each nation. Channel 4 isn’t comparable to the BBC, we are commercial and the BBC also has nations and regions in-house production. Channel 4 is committed to the nations and regions, it voluntarily increased its nations and regions commitments from 35% to 50% and has always surpassed them.

“We work very closely with agencies and bodies within the nations and regions. Over the last 12 months this has included a number of bespoke development schemes, specific training and skills schemes, and a range of meetings and workshops – all in partnership with agencies in the nations.”


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Riki
Riki
1 month ago

They should be set in those countries, I actively avoid UK TV in favour of Asian Programmes, mainly Korean or Japanese so I can avoid hearing the Ever present Anglo in all walks of life. Can’t go five minutes without hearing why England is awesome and everything they do is for our benefit. Wales, Scotland and NI are the only countries in the world who are forced to watched a foreign nations media. Not even North Koreans are forced to do that! Independence will sort all the problems out!

Rhddwen y Sais
Rhddwen y Sais
1 month ago
Reply to  Riki

C4 chases the advertising. I think what you want is pay to view.

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
1 month ago
Reply to  Riki

I understand where you are coming from.Today we do have a choice of other news outlets on TV e.g Al Jazeera, France 24 who do make good documentaries other than news items.However even this at times is curtailed with the UK government taking RT and Press TV off the air.
I used to listen to RTE radio when going out and about in the car but even this is no longer available on LW radio and is not available on DAB.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

Yes, I agree. However when they do make programmes from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland they always seem to choose locations that are pathetically grim and look like scenes out of hell. Oh look, it’s peeing down with rain, let’s go to Wales, Scotland or NI to film. Oh look, it’s a beautiful summer’s day, let’s film in England amongst the chocolate box thatched roof cottages with roses around the door down a quiet country lane.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
1 month ago

The OFCOM proposed quota seems ridiculous for a broadcaster that operates UK wide. I often wondered why important issues in Wales hardly ever received coverage and now I know. The result has to impact on impartiality. Maybe the same quota system should be used in determining how much licence fee we pay if we in Wales are not getting a proper service.

Rhddwen y Sais
Rhddwen y Sais
1 month ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

The licence fee is past its sell by date.

Sian
Sian
1 month ago
Reply to  Rhddwen y Sais

Licence fee is horrendous BBC not Channel 4

Rhddwen y Sais
Rhddwen y Sais
1 month ago
Reply to  Sian

I was replying to a specific comment but I agree the BBC is outdated as the licence fee. Pay to view the sort of programmes you want is unquestionally the way forward.

Mr Williams
Mr Williams
1 month ago

It would be even better if we had an English language channel just for Wales, e.g. a ‘Cymru24’ type channel like several other countries do.

Rhddwen y Sais
Rhddwen y Sais
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr Williams

That would be a great subscription service.

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